A partner in local law firm said, “The medical profession these days aims to treat patients as adults who were capable of understanding that medical treatment is uncertain of success and might involve risks and who can accept responsibility for the taking of risks affecting their own lives and living with the consequences of their choices”.
The key issue in this case was whether a ‘reasonable person’ in the patient’s position would be likely to understand and attach appropriate significance to the risk and whether the doctor was or should have been aware that the particular patient would be likely to understand and attach appropriate significance to the risk.
The pursuer of the claim, who was of small stature and suffered from diabetes, was regarded as having a high risk pregnancy. She was told that she was having a larger than usual baby but she was not told about the potential risks of experiencing mechanical problems during labour. In particular she was not told about the risk, which was indeed what actually happened during the birth, of shoulder dystocia — the inability of the baby’s shoulders to pass through the pelvis. Also, other options, such as delivery by caesarean section, were not discussed.
The Court found that it had been incumbent on the doctor to advise the pursuer of the risk of shoulder dystocia if she were to have her baby by vaginal delivery and to discuss with her the alternative of delivery by caesarean section.